BWW Reviews: Molissa Fenley and Company Presents World Premiere and Revivals
Molissa Fenley, New York Live Arts, Replay Series, Modern Dance
The Replay Series, presented by New York Live Arts, allows audience members the opportunity to engage with works that span the entire career of influential dance makers. As part of this series, Molissa Fenley and Company can be seen at New York Live Arts October 2-5, performing a world premiere alongside revivals of several pivotal works from the early years of Ms. Fenley's career. Program A, presented on October 2-3 at 7:30pm includes The Floor Dances, Found Object, and Energizer.
The Floor Dances provides a captivating and meditative introduction to the evening with Ms. Fenley performing her own solo choreography, which she created in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989. The performance space for this elegant solo is a wide circular field in the center of the stage, delineated by a border of evenly spaced granite forms by landscape artist Richard Long. The jagged grey stones create a wall only about two feet tall at its highest point, but, as Ms. Fenley quietly enters the space and lowers herself to the floor, the wall appears decidedly menacing in comparison. Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs for soprano and orchestra fills the air, and Ms. Fenley's arms are transformed into majestic, desperate wings. The Floor Dances is filled with imagery of birds, but it never seems that the movement is a mere imitation. Ms. Fenley's limbs paint flowing phrases of flight and distorted fits of panic, not forced into positions but animated by a desire to reach beyond their current entanglement. Throughout the piece, Ms. Fenley is effortlessly attached to the floor, weighed down by some invisible force. Her feet and legs glide over the surface to which they are bound, absorbing the echo of her movement. The dignity and commitment of her performance is astonishing. It is not possible to catalogue what comes before a given moment, nor predict what will come next. Combined with Mr. Long's sculptural set, David Moodey's lighting design lends a haunting beauty to the work. Throughout the piece, shadowy blue light casts an oily sheen over the black marley. At the entrance of the soprano voice, the stage is flooded with a peculiar ghostly white-blue light, and later, bright golden beams spread across the stage. This glow intensifies near the close of the work, bringing to mind the intense, short-lived splendor of the setting sun. The final moments of Floor Dances linger as the harsh yellow light fades, a striking image of beauty that is too dignified to be diminished by tragedy.
Following this striking encounter with Ms. Fenley's solo work comes Found Object, a world premiere created in collaboration with three writers who each provided instructions to be interpreted by Ms. Fenley and her company. As a whole, the work is not especially effective, although each of the sections possess distinct and memorable characteristics.
The first section, called Dance for Jene, does not use written instructions, but rather serves as homage to the artistry of sculptor Jene Highstein (1942-2013). Dance for Jene makes use of hand props created by Mr. Highstein for Ms. Fenley's work The Prop Dances. The props consist of white rectangular panels similar in size to a sheet of letter paper, with an outline of a hand on one side, and are worn over the dancers' hands. For this duet, performed in silence, Ms. Fenley is joined by Christina Axelsen. The women glide gracefully through the space, while the hand props accentuate their arcing arm movements. Watching the dancers move with the props, it is easy to imagine that they are simply riding the waves of air stirred by their hands, and the whole section feels buoyant and effortless.